Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s impressive attitude over the last few years is even more impressive considering Cristiano Ronaldo’s sad end to his career, writes Adam Summerton.
As a footballer, I admire Cristiano Ronaldo greatly – he is one of the greatest players of all time, in my opinion, his achievements are genuinely astonishing, and his dedication to his craft, in terms of physical conditioning, is perhaps unmatched.
But as the events of recent weeks have unfolded – with both Manchester United and Portugal – I have lamented what I see as an opportunity missed. I’d argue his national team now operates better without Ronaldo as a regular starter, but he is still capable of playing a hugely positive role at club and international level. Ronaldo scored 24 goals in 38 appearances for Manchester United last season – if a 21-year-old did that, we’d be lauding them as one of the games’ great prospects.
The problem with Ronaldo, as Juventus found to their cost, is that it all has to be about him – and if you’re looking to build a well-honed, fully functioning club side – it cannot be so dependent on one supremely talented individual in his late 30s. As some Juventus players have since testified, teammates became too reliant on him and the team’s dynamic suffered severely. It’s also a natural consequence of age that someone in their late 30s won’t be able to run as far or with the intensity required to suit certain team requirements. Pressing from the front, for example, requires every one of the forwards to buy in and if one doesn’t, it renders the whole exercise pointless.
Despite this, I maintain that Ronaldo – with a change in his mindset – could still have a significant role to play in a top-European league and with Portugal. I’ve heard people say that’s not possible because he’s not wired that way and needs to be the main man. Surely, better to change your expectations, and accept the limitations of age, than to end up playing at a standard – in somewhere like the middle-east – that is way below the level you are still capable of competing in.
I guess you could say it all boils down to ego – the assertion that he won’t let him accept a more limited role within a top club. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – who’s more than three years older than Ronaldo, is walking, talking proof that ego need be no barrier to retaining significance well into your 30s and even, in Ibra’s case, when you are in your 40s.